Have you ever been listening to your favorite artist and wondered what it took to make them sound that great? Or wondered why we've gone from record to cassettes to cds and now our beloved iPods. In 1877 Thomas Edison was working in his lab and was able to recover Mary's Little Lamb from a strip of tin foil wrapped around a cylinder that was spinning. He then demonstrated his new discovery to the offices of scientific American. And this gave way to his Phonograph. With the foundation of the Phonograph scientist and engineers from all over the world became infatuated with recording sound each inventing something new or making an improvement to a current recording device. Although the first devices capable of recording sound were used as scientific instruments used to capture sound and study sound waves, though these devices could record sound they could not play it back.
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The most famous of these was Leon Scotts phonoautograph invented in 1857. His invention used a horn to capture sound and send it toward a flexible diaphragm placed at the small end of the horn. Attached to the diaphragm was a stylus and a lever that allowed the point of the stylus to scratch out a line on a rotating cylinder that was placed beneath it. On an interesting note Alexander Graham Bell experimented with a phonautograph in 1874 shortly before Edison's invention. He wanted to discover how the human ear detected sound so he used a human ear as the recording medium in a phonautograph the ear drum replacing the flexible diaphragm. One of Edison's improvements to the phonautograph was the phonograph in 1877 essentially the same as phonautograph the only thing different about the phonograph was meant to record phone messages. About a decade after the Phonograph the Graphophone was introduced essentially an improved phonograph the new device motivated Edison to return to his phonograph which resulted in an improved phonograph. They tried marketing this new and improved phonograph to stenographers to replace hand writing they made little profit until someone had idea to make a coin operated phonograph for public amusement.
The phonograph and the Graphophone made their way to the 1920s. in 1924, Columbia began experiments with a new kind of technology developed by the WEC (wester electric company) they used electronic amplifiers to power an electromagnetic head rather than relying on an acoustic horn. The result was a much louder clearer recording. Although these recorders relied on horns for playback. As radios became increasingly popular in home it became normal for people to buy record players. Some had a built in loud speaker others had specially made radio sets that played through them. The era of the phonograph also introduced an alternative to recording technology. It wasn't exposed to the public but as time went on it became very popular in studios. Magnetic recording which was used for Video and audio tape was introduced by the a Danish inventor Valdemar Poulsen. Poulsen hoped for it to take hold in the U.S and Europe for office use mainly for telephone recording. Though it never took off in the U.S England and Germany persisted in developing this technology.
The Telegraphone was one of the earlier invention used in magnetic recording it almost looked like a phonograph with a cylinder. The deference was that wire was wrapped around a cylinder the record head tracked the wire along the surface. As time went on the wire was replaced with tape this improved the sound quality dramatically. With improvements on recording tape made it possible to record for long period of time. The magnetophone was its name and it made very good use in field recording and telephone surveillance as well. Although tape recording wasn't popular amongst audio enthusiast it would eventually replace the phonograph and optical recording methods. German engineers were among the first to create this high audio quality producing machines and as with every great invention the world followed. Movies, radio, and studios around the world adopted tape recording by the early 1950s. During this time the first consumer magnetic recording devices were sold, they were inexpensive wire recorders, nothing like the magnetic tape recorders.
They quickly got the markets attentions and sold rapidly. Tape recording in studios led to new innovations previously unthought of. These new ideas changed the way music was produced. Less expensive magnrecorders were popular at this time in radio stations and studio where the relied on this machine for production and editing work. The basic editing of this time involved cutting, splicing, re arranging, compiling pieces of recordings, or mixing two or more sound sources into one recording. Editing at this time was very tedious and had to be handled by a very skill professional. This was because editing involved physical manipulation of the magnetic tape. Although this was a breakthrough in recording technology because before magnetic tape artists had to play their songs with minimal to no error what so ever. Recording engineers found it easier to edit on tape despite the tedious work with these innovations the foundation for more advanced recording techniques would follow.
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Multitrack recordings being one of these very advanced innovations. Being now able to edit music because of magnetic tape engineers were able to use a technique called multitrack recording. For example a single artist can play a rhythm and have it played back to record leads over his/her song. Even in the late 1940s experiments' with multitrack recording were conducted. As engineers reduced the size of the recording heads they were then able to mount two even three recording heads on a single recording and equip each one microphone which allowed for simultaneous tracks to be recorded on a single tape. This enabled groups of musicians or singer to be separated in to two maybe three groups depending how many tracks can be recorded. A rhythm section can be recorded and the rest of the band can be recorded separately. If a musician made a mistake his part can be taken out and re recorded without assembling the whole band again. As time went on this technique would become perfected and it became the basis for every recording. More and more tracks were added to recording devices eventually up to 24 tracks could be recorded on a very wide tape. Complex multitrack recording was very popular in the 1960s. One of the outcomes of multitrack recording was most apparent to consumers.
Stereo sound was a big hit accidently discovered by Clement Ader using microphones and very cheap headphones produces a stereo effect when listeners outside an opera hall heard this strange effect when adjacent telephone lines linked to stage microphones at the Paris opera. The stereo effect gave pleasing results to the consumer often described as "realistic". This was because the human ear can identify the location of sound source bass on the slight time and the receiving of sound in each ear. Although engineers didn't much approve of this stereo effect because instruments in the studio were not perfectly simulated when stereo recordings were produced. However despite engineers disapproval listeners loved the three dimensional effect of stereo and it became very popular. Though it required consumers as well as audio engineers to buy equipments that could play stero records along with two channel amplifiers and another speaker.
The 8 track later followed. The 8 track was the corner stone in American audio technology. Popularized in cars. They never sold in great numbers and were eventually shove to the side due to the invention of the car tape systems. Which the tape cartridges were much smaller. The 8 track however did take hold a large portion of the music market in the 1960s. Although it was a compromise in terms of sound quality it was designed so that anyone can use it do its extreme simplicity. It peaked in the late 70s and as of today it has become a symbol of 70s butt jokes.
Digital audio as what we are accustomed to today though with the increasing rate of technology of mp3 players we will see how long the CD will last. Digital audio begin in the telephone industry. Where it was suppose to be used as a way of keeping digitized phone conversations and compress them so more conversations' could be saved. Since the bandwidth of a telephone line is very narrow sound quality wasn't focused on how good the telephone was or how well the telephone line was its issues were based on speech rather than detail. However the basic techniques for recording conversations digitally eventually led to high quality recordings. Digital audio tape was reintroduced in the 1980s. In the meantime while the audio cassette was the big hit, big names such as Phillips and Sony had been working on a way to record audio signals to a reflective disk.
The Compact Disk was not necessarily a great leap in audio technology for the fact in the last 1970s analog laser video disks were introduced. So it could be said that the compact disk was reintroduced in 1982. Though the CD was not popularized so quickly. It did not replace the audio cassette as one would think even though the CD sounded much better than anything else at the time. Although in the 1990s it was the most popular home audio format. Recordable cds were not available yet until the mid 1990s but until 2000 there sales never kicked off. Today the main challenger of the cd is the dvd though it is very unclear whether or not these formats will survive the current reign of the Mp3.
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During the 1990s with the advancement in computer technology digital recording became more advanced. At the end of the 1990s hard disk recording became more popular. Mainly for audio enthusiasts and home studios. Computers can be hooked up to an audio interface that can record from up to one track at a time to up to 24 at a time depending on your audio interface. Most audio interfaces are USB or FIREWIRE. With the advancement in digital audio recording editing can be done much easier now. Most editing is done in a DAW (digital audio workstation). It doesn't take a skilled engineer to splice tape anymore just a few clicks of the mouse can edit the project. With then innovation of electric instrument mainly keyboard and synthesizer's effects and other instruments have led to the importance of MIDI recording a good example is using MIDI samples such as drum to have a particular drum of a drum set replaced with a different sound of a better sounding drum. As time goes on audio engineering technology will continue to advanced cds will fade. DVDs will be forgotten and the mp3 and our beloved iPods will be no more. Some other format will take over and some new recording device will record sound so realistic that it is not possible to fathom at this moment in time.